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Harry Moroz

Limiting Your Franchise: Registration, Not ACORN

As the mainstream media allows Senator McCain and Governor Palin to continue to talk about Senator Obama’s “associations” with ACORN, I think it would be useful to revisit the subject of voter registration, if only to investigate whether the looting and death threats against ACORN offices and staffers are justified.

Way back in February while I was researching an Election Day Registration law that went into effect this year in Iowa, I wrote a post exploring registration deadlines and the consequences – or, perhaps better, the existence – of voter fraud.

First, I outlined how voting requirements like registration deadlines have themselves been used as mechanisms of disenfranchisement:

Voting requirements…became the means to throw elections and disenfranchise whole swaths of the population. At their worst, these disingenuous regulations were sinister: politicians in the post-Civil War South pioneered the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, vouchers of “good character”, and disqualifications for crimes of moral turpitude to keep former slaves and the poor from the polls, while justifying the requirements with calls for an “invested” and “educated” electorate. At best, such regulations were a compromise. The primary system institutionalized (and so in some ways reined in) machine politics, but at the same time surrendered fully open democratic elections…Election rules have limited electoral manipulation by reducing the potential for fraud, but at the same time voter restrictions have also provided political parties with legal channels through which to suppress voting… Registration deadlines – the most banal seeming of all structural constraints – are a contemporary manifestation of electoral restrictions that suppress voter turnout and, in some cases, even affect the expression of one’s electoral preference once inside the voting booth.

Noting that Election Day Registration (which, duh, allows voters to register on election day) leads to an increase of between 3% and 6% of voters who otherwise would not have shown up to the polls, I described that:

the smaller universe of voters created by registration deadlines means that political parties need only educate registered eligible voters about the registration and voting processes, about candidates, and about electoral issues…Those groups that are less likely to know to and to know how to register are simply disregarded as if they are not able to vote at all.

At the same time, widespread voter fraud is a fiction:

The type of voter fraud that registration deadlines purport to prevent – triple or quadruple voting by the deceased – is exceedingly rare. After all, how much value could the vote burglar get from the 3 or 4 additional votes she casts, even if she doesn’t realize that the felony she is committing could put her in jail for 5 years? Empirical studies show the same thing (see here and here). For instance, a study of voter fraud in 2004 in New Hampshire, a state that uses EDR, found that there was no evidence that anyone who had registered on Election Day had voted more than once. Further, in court cases involving requirements for voters to present photo identification, states often admit that voter fraud is either non-existent or is not widespread. Although there is evidence that organized conspiracies to determine the outcome of an election still occur (e.g. in Florida, California, and Missouri), the rampant individual voter fraud that registration deadlines purport to prevent is a myth.

So as the McCain campaign and its supporters question the necessity of registering voters and warn of “voter fraud” (when they mean voter registration fraud), remember that registration requirements are designed to keep minorities and poor and young people from voting and remember that voter registration fraud is, for all intents and purposes, itself a fraud.

As I concluded in February:

The violence with which elections are contested in other countries and the brutality that defined elections of America’s past should remind us how much is at stake when we enter the voting booth. It should also lead us to wonder whether the powerful interests that employed Hell-Cat Maggie, “knock-out” drops, and whisky to win past elections have been eviscerated by election reforms or have simply altered their methods of influence.

Harry Moroz: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 5:14 PM, Oct 17, 2008 in Election 2008 | Voting | Voting Rights
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